Northern Whig seems a very unlikely place to meet
life long Republican and Socialist Bobby Tohill. Perhaps
it was the statues built by the Communist Party of
Czeckoslovakia that made him feel at home among a
crowd of Belfast yuppies and new bourgeoisie. The
"Tohill Incident" as it is known has destabilised
the whole 'peace process'. Bobby has already given
a number of controversial and contradictory interviews
about the incident. It is partly on their basis that
the government is going to decide whether or not the
Provisional IRA was involved in an abduction and murder
attempt. Is it wise for Bobby to give this interview
now ? Should it not be better for him to keep his
mouth shut? And what are the chances that he is going
to retract what he saying in this interview? Tohill
feels that it is necessary "to put the record
straight". He said that his other interviews
had been "used and abused", and feels
that he is "being used as a pawn in a game
of political football". He is also confident
that The Blanket more than any other publication
won't misrepresent what he is saying.
of all, Bobby distanced himself from an article published
in the Sunday World after his attack. He reiterates
that the incident in Kelly's Winecellar was a "pub
brawl", that "it wasn't a Provisional
IRA operation", that he was "not
abducted", that he "never made any
complaints to the PSNI" and does not intend
to provide any information on the incident to the
International Commission in the future. "There
is no way they can justify keeping these men in prison
because of me."
is the version of the incident that Bobby Tohill sticks
to and will hold on to in the future.
Tohill is very weary about how this incident is being
manipulated by elements of the British and Southern
establishments to further their own agenda and to
add increasing pressure on the Provisional movement.
He does not want to be used by them. He has no intention
of adding anything that could objectively benefit
also denied another report from the Sunday World
according to which the Provisional IRA guaranteed
his safety in exchange for making no official complaints
and denying versions of the story that he was abducted.
"This didn't happen" says Tohill.
He said that as a Republican, deal or no deal, he
would never consider giving evidence to the PSNI.
"Keeping my mouth shut like a dignified Republican
is a matter of principle to me."
does Bobby Tohill then also distance himself from
another interview he gave to the Sunday World
last September where he claimed he was under death
threat from the Provisional IRA?
admits that he has had "grievances"
with "elements" from the Provisional
movement, because of political differences. This is
because he has been "very vocal"
in condemning some of their activities within their
own communities, such as the punishment beatings,
a practice he deems "barbaric". Tohill
entirely agrees with John Kelly's recent assessment
of the Provisionals. He is also appalled by how the
Provisional movement is trying to suppress dissent
and all the other Republican organisations such as
the 32 CSM and the Republican Socialist Movement.
"I feel so saddened to think how Republicans
can attack, intimidate, suppress and oppress other
Republican organisations because they want to carry
out their own thing."
has received "five death threats within the
space of six months" by "elements"
within the Provisionals. On the same day this interview
took place, Bobby was informed by the PSNI that he
was under "immediate death threat",
and that the Provisional IRA had four places he was
reputedly staying in (two in South Belfast and two
in West Belfast) under surveillance. But is he under
threat from the Provisional IRA as an organisation
or just from elements within it? Tohill calls for
the Provisional movement to state clearly whether
this has been sanctioned or not. Tohill explains that
what he fears is not being shot, but dying in "mysterious
accidents". He constantly has to watch his
back, he thinks his killing will be likely to be disguised
as being run over by some 'drunken driver', being
stabbed by some 'hoods'. 'falling down the stairs'
and other tragic circumstances apparently unconnected
to politics. [Such as, perhaps, a "pub brawl".
is particularly upset by how some Provisionals attempt
to "demonise" him and blacken his
name. Bobby asks why he has to go through this, given
that he has devoted his whole life to the cause of
Republicanism and suffered much for it. As a result
of this, like many other ex-combatants, he suffers
from severe post traumatic stress disorder.
comes from a solid Republican background. At one time,
four of his brothers were in prison at the same time,
serving long sentences while they still were teenagers.
For years, his mother collected money for POWs, and
was given a massive funeral only last year. Tohill
was one of the youngest to be imprisoned during this
phase of the conflict. When still a schoolboy, he
was charged for a bomb attack in Divis Flats which
killed two British soldiers. As a "schoolboy
prisoner" he was involved in escape tunnels and
the burning of Long Kesh. When released from imprisonment,
he never failed to return to active service unit with
the famous Provisional IRA D Company - on at least
four different occasions. All this for the Provisional
movement, which now wants to silence him. He later
became involved with the INLA. Imprisoned on the word
of Harry Kirkpatrick in the early 1980s, he took part
in a hunger strike which contributed to shake the
'supergrass' system. When released from prison, Bobby
played a prominent role in defending the Republican
Socialist Movement against the IPLO's attempt to forcibly
disband the movement. On this occasion he was shot
and wounded. After that he moved to Dublin, where
he became involved in anti-drugs activities. It should
be noted that Bobby Tohill is no stranger to controversy.
On a number of occasions, he has been the victim of
punishment shootings by both the Provisional IRA and
the INLA for running into trouble with those organisations.
He has the reputation of being a 'loose cannon'. More
recently, he has run into conflicts with a well known
Dublin criminal. And last August, his name was associated
with the killing of [Danny] McGurk. There are also
reports that he is a prominent member of the Real
IRA. Bobby refused to discuss these issues and allegations.
"They are outside the scope of this interview,
they can be discussed another time."
Tohill is frustrated by the fact that the media (like
the Irish Star or the Sunday World)
is only concentrating on his "macho" image,
and totally ignores his own personal political thinking.
Tohill has been deeply influenced by the ideas of
his late friend (and political strategist of the Republican
Socialist Movement) Thomas 'Ta' Power. He believes
that because many Republicans come from a military
background, and as in armies people have to obey orders
rather than discuss them, too many of them can't think
for themselves and blindly obey whatever their leadership
says. Bobby thinks that priority should be given to
a process of politicisation and political education
of the activists. Political education should proceed
at the level of people's understanding, if it is too
abstract and too intellectual nobody will listen to
it and it will be irrelevant. Tohill laments the fact
that Irish Republicanism is now "an abyss
of despair". His analysis is that the British
state has been very successful in reducing the Republican
threat by encouraging divisions and animosities within
Republican ranks. There are now no fewer than four
IRAs and two organisations calling themselves Sinn
Fein. He deplores that there is so much bitterness
and hatred between different Republican factions,
and that as long as those disputes continue, believes
that they won't be able to mount a significant political
challenge. He believes that at this stage "the
armed struggle is over" and that Republicans
should concentrate on developing a political alternative
to the current status quo. Bobby also feels that it
is highly unfortunate that an increasing number of
people are involved in Republican politics because
of financial gain rather than ideological conviction.
This can only add a dimension of moral bankruptcy
to an already weakened cause. Concerning both the
Kelly's Winecellar incident and the future of the
struggle, Bobby Tohill concluded: "Let the
people make their own minds
is not the task of the present interviewer to pass
judgement on whether the content of Bobby Tohill's
account is true or not. Many people will remain sceptical
of his claims. The man is controversial and his account
is certain to be disputed. There are still many unanswered
questions. This interview was a means to help Bobby
put his message across in a way other newspapers did
not allow him. The aim was to facilitate him articulating
his own ideas, and analyse the situation as he sees
it. As long as the current climate of intimidation,
censorship and manipulation prevails within Republicans
circles, The Blanket will provide a space for
those marginalized voices.
Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews +
Letters + Archives